In the most significant development since the NHL lockout began last month, the league issued a proposal Tuesday in Toronto that is designed to preserve a full 82-game season for each team if a collective bargaining agreement can be reached by Oct. 25.
The league proposed a six-year agreement with an option for a seventh that would split hockey-related revenues with the players down the middle provided the season can begin Nov. 2 after a one-week training camp.
A huge stumbling block has been the unwillingness by players to take pay cuts. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said he believes the proposal addresses that concern.
"We have about nine or 10 days to get this all put to bed, signed, sealed and delivered, in order for this offer to be effective and for us to move forward," Bettman said. "We hope that this effort that we've undertaken today would be successful because we know how difficult this all has been for everybody associated with the game, particularly our fans."
Donald Fehr, the NHL Players' Association executive director, took the NHL proposal and assembled his staff Tuesday with the intent of reading it, digesting it and fully understanding it.
The union wanted to crunch numbers before an afternoon conference call with its executive board and negotiating committee.
"Our hope is that after we review this that there will be a feeling on the players' side that this is a proposal from which we can negotiate and try to reach a conclusion," Fehr said. "I would like to believe that after we're done [reviewing the proposal] that it will be an excellent starting point and we can go forward and see if there's a deal to be made."
Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly returned to New York to await word from the union when negotiations can proceed. It's expected to be Thursday.
Among players, there was cautious optimism that talks will now heat up.
"It's the first good news we've heard in a while," Wild veteran Matt Cullen said. "It seems closer to where we want to be. We have to see the details, but I don't think there's any question this is a positive move that hopefully we can build off."
Wild forward Zach Parise echoed Cullen, saying: "That's what everyone's hoping -- players fans, everyone -- that this is a starting point. That's my initial hope. When we found out on the ice that they made a proposal this morning, it was like, 'Let's get this thing going.'
"We'll see the next few days. I hope this leads to serious negotiations."
Without providing details, Bettman said there is no salary rollback. Players received 57 percent of the $3.3 billion in revenue last season. Under the NHL's proposal Tuesday, salaries would reduce by 12 percent in an effort to get to the 50-50 split. However, that money would be deferred and reimbursed to players over the length of their contracts, according to an NHL source.
So if a player on a 10-year deal had his salary cut by $1 million, he would receive $100,000 a year over 10 years.
Other details of the proposal include raising free agency from 27 years old or seven years of service to 28 or eight years of service (the league proposed 30 years old or 10 years in July); keeping arbitration (the league originally proposed to abolish it); lowering entry-level contract lengths from three years to two (the league originally wanted five); and having five-year maximum contracts, which the union will surely want to negotiate.
Earlier this month, the NHL postponed the Oct. 11-24 portion of the schedule (82 games overall, including five Wild games). With Tuesday's proposal, it would also postpone the Oct. 25-Nov. 1 games.
However, by starting Nov. 2, a full 82-game season can be played by adding one game every five weeks and extending the season by 10-14 days, sources say.
A Nov. 2 start date means the first nine Wild games would be rescheduled and the Wild may have to start the season on a six-game road trip beginning Nov. 3 at Tampa Bay. The way the schedule currently stands, a Nov. 2 start date puts 15 of the Wild's first 19 games on the road.
More than 150 players are scattered in leagues across Europe. Wild captain Mikko Koivu is supposed to leave for Turku, Finland, on Friday. That could change now.
"I've been looking for a way to get these negotiations jump-started, and if this does it, that'll be great," Fehr said. "We'll see, though."